‘Likable’ may not translate to votes in this mayoral raceBottom Highlights, Politically Aware Thursday, July 7th, 2011
Commentary: Politically Aware
“You’re likable enough” was then candidate Obama’s comment about his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton. Whether he meant it or not, he was factually wrong. In 2008, Clinton’s likability didn’t translate into enough votes to win the presidency. Recent events in the 2012 race for San Diego mayor suggest that another likable politician, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, could have a tougher track to victory than previously thought.
With state Sen. Christine Kehoe’s June announcement that she won’t run, there are four major players in the mayoral race. U.S. Representative Bob Filner is the lone Democrat, with City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and California Assemblymember Nathan Fletcher crowding the Republican field. Don’t be fooled by the technically true coverage that this is a non-partisan race. Last week Jess Durfee, the chairman of the County Democratic Party, sent a memo threatening to pull money from any elected official endorsing a Republican for mayor. His Republican counterpart has done the same.
KGTV and Survey USA released a poll last month showing DeMaio leading the pack with 22 percent of the vote, followed by Dumanis at 15 percent, Filner at 14 percent and Fletcher at 7 percent. Only 14 percent of voters were undecided, but the poll included state Sen. Christine Kehoe (12 percent) and Councilmember Kevin Faulconer (6 percent), both of whom passed on the race. If Steve Francis (4 percent) stays out, a total of 36 percent of voters will still be looking for someone to back.
In his work on the 2012 Presidential Republican primary, statistician and blogger Nate Silver of the New York Times has looked to see how early data on name recognition, partisan affiliation and ideology and favorability ratings affect the final vote. Applying a similar eye to the mayoral data and accounting for Kehoe’s departure brings the race in to focus.
When Dumanis announced her candidacy, some thought she might win in the primary. Called “the most popular politician in San Diego,” her broad appeal included Democrats and Independents. In a January 2011 poll, she had a 31 percent favorability rating, with only 16 percent viewing her unfavorably. While Donna Frye actually had a higher favorability, Dumanis’ 15 percent “net favorability” (favorability minus unfavorability) was the best for any candidate tested.
Those numbers should be good for Dumanis, but her favorability isn’t turning into votes yet. Combined with her 15 percent June vote share, it suggests that not everyone who likes her is voting for her. The best explanation may be a lack of support from her own party. Only 12 percent of Republicans and 13 percent of conservatives are voting for Dumanis, not much better than Filner, a Democrat (10 percent and 11 percent). Dumanis does lead Republicans in support from Democrats and liberals but she will need to win a large percentage of the currently undecided voters to make it through the primary.
One reason Dumanis may be having trouble with Republicans is DeMaio, who has the largest share of the conservative (31 percent) and Republican vote (33 percent). While he leads the field at 22 percent, he may also have the least room to grow within his favorability. DeMaio’s favorability rating was 27 percent, suggesting most of those who like DeMaio are already voting for him. DeMaio’s unfavorability was only 17 percent, and 34 percent still had no opinion of him but given the high profile he has taken on the budget, and the rhetoric from his supporters and detractors, it wouldn’t be surprising to see DeMaio’s unfavorables increase on the next poll. Still, his 22 percent may be the most solid number in the poll, and if his Tea Party supporters (44 percent) are as energized as they were in 2010, they may be more likely voters as well.
Nathan Fletcher is the biggest wild card. Entering the race later than DeMaio and Dumanis, he has only 7 percent of the vote, but 20 percent of voters viewed him favorably, and 70 percent of voters were neutral or undecided about him. He needs to catch fire, but a good debate performance or the right issue could allow him to surge.
Like Dumanis, Congressman Filner has a significant gap between his 30 percent January favorability and his 14 percent support. That gap, though, may have been named Kehoe, who was the leading choice for Democrats and liberals. If these voters move to Filner, expect his numbers to surge in the next poll as he consolidates the Democratic vote. Less clear is where else Filner will find voters. Only 21 percent of voters are neutral on him, and 19 percent have no opinion, both numbers being the lowest in the poll for declared candidates.
The money primary is just beginning, where Dumanis should do well with her endorsements and establishment support. But if Filner can pull together the Democrats and liberals, his support could easily get into the mid-30s. DeMaio’s share will likely only increase, particularly given the enthusiasm of his supporters. If he can get near 30 percent, Dumanis will need to best Fletcher for almost all the voters in the middle, or risk being another likable candidate who didn’t make the general election.
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